You can easily and joyfully spend weeks in Tokyo, getting lost in the sprawling oddities of the capital city. But that would not give you a proper understanding of Japan as whole. This island nation rewards those who venture beyond Tokyo with mesmerizing natural and cultural attractions that are splendidly unique in the modern world. Any trip you plan to Japan should include these unforgettable destinations:
The formal Imperial capital, Kyoto is the vibrant heart of Japan’s epic history. Home to 17 World Heritage Sites, this alluring city boasts more than 2,000 temples and shrines, including Kiyomizu-dera and the Golden Pavilion, along with rock gardens and modern-day geishas. When evening comes, relax at Yamatoya, a beloved local jazz bar considered to be one of the city’s best hidden gems.
A quick bullet-train ride from Kyoto, Himeji is the sight of an awe-inspiring 400-year-old castle that proudly stands as the jewel of Japan’s military architecture. Built to force attackers through a complex and dangerous maze, the structure is called the White Heron Castle due to its glistening white exterior. Also not to be missed, and just a few minutes’ walk from the castle, is Menme, a cheerful family-run restaurant known for its delicious homemade udon noodles.
A picturesque island in the Seto Inland Sea, Naoshima is called Art Island for good reason. Not only does it house three major galleries along with many smaller venues, but also dozens of colorful outdoor installations that dot the beaches and fishing village. The island is reached by bullet train from Tokyo or Osaka followed by a twenty-minute ferry ride, and it’s dotted with ryokan, traditional guest houses known for their tatami-matted rooms, futon beds and Japanese-style baths.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
A famous hot springs area near Nagano, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is surrounded by sheer cliffs and an old, hulking forest. When snow covers the park, photogenic Snow Monkeys descend from the tree tops to lounge in the hot springs, much to the delight of visitors. The area, known as the Japanese Alps, is also famous for its skiing and luxury resorts.